How to choose an area rug and set the room’s style, from the ground up

Floor coverings can inspire aesthetic for furnishings, create zones within space

In the market for an area rug? What’s your need: To define a space? Create a vignette? Have something cozy under your feet? Protect your floors? Keep kids and animals from skidding through rooms and hallways? Muffle echoes? Anchor furniture? Or suggest the aesthetic of the room?

It’s probably a mix of many of these criteria.

These needs, as well as your day-to-day lifestyle, is where to start when you consider your purchase.

When it comes to design, there’s a function and aesthetic,” explained Lauren Pryor, director of sales and operations in the San Diego location of Designers Resource Collection, a to-the-trade showroom. Such design-trade specialists act as a bridge between manufacturers and interior designers, showcasing the latest trends in indoor and outdoor furnishings, rugs, lighting, and accessories.

Designers Resource Collection’s showroom in San Diego has a broad selection of Dash & Albert rugs.
Designers Resource Collection’s showroom in San Diego has a broad selection of Dash & Albert rugs.(Jenny Siegwart Photography)

A lot of people will put rugs in to create a delineation between the flooring and create a vignette or ‘moment’ in their home,” Pryor said. “So many homes these days have great rooms, where it’s hard to divvy up space from, say, the living-room seating and the dining room. An area rug can help create visual segregation in the room between these spaces.”

And, she added, it could be that you have all hardwood or tile floors and simply want a nice cushy rug with a great rug pad to make a room — or space within a room — a little cozier.

C&C Milano outdoor rugs, found at Thomas Lavin showrooms. From left: two colors in Calliope, one in Galatea, three in Talia.
C&C Milano outdoor rugs found at Thomas Lavin showrooms. From left: two colors in Calliope, one in Galatea, three in Talia. (Courtesy of C&C Milano)

Because rugs come at all price points, you can invest in a custom rug as an extravagant way to set the design for the room, or add a bit of fun design by buying a ready-made one from a retailer, without breaking the bank.

In fact, Thomas Lavin, who owns Thomas Lavin showrooms for the interior design trade in Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center and Laguna Design Center, sees area rugs not only as a way to define a space or area but as a jumping-off point for design, to establish a textural, color or pattern element in a room.

Rosemary Hallgarten’s art deco-inspired 1920 rug, in soft shearling in Ermine color, is at Thomas Lavin showrooms.
Rosemary Hallgarten’s art deco-inspired 1920 rug, in soft shearling in Ermine color, is at Thomas Lavin showrooms.(Courtesy of Rosemary Hallgarten)

When I was a kid starting out in our industry, designers who were really ahead of the game would start with the rug, because the rug could lead to everything else,” Lavin said. “If you were choosing a patterned rug or an antique rug, then all of your patterns, all of your fabric selections could slide off of that.

Today, designers work in many different ways and may finish with the rug, which means they’re going to have to find something that works with the furniture and the fabric that’s already been purchased, with the correct scale and colors. So, I think that’s why you should start with a rug. Custom rugs can take a long time to have made and delivered.”

Pattern and contrast in a rug help set off the sleek table and chairs sitting atop, at Designers Resource Collection.
Pattern and contrast in a rug help set off the sleek table and chairs sitting atop, at Designers Resource Collection.(Jenny Siegwart Photography)

In addition, as Pryor pointed out, if you’re designing a room from scratch, as a practical matter, it makes more sense to have the rugs in place before installing the furniture.

Once you have established the purpose of the rug, you have to consider the material and size. Natural fibers can look and feel luxurious. They’re what we all think we want. But the challenge is that they are definitely not an ally to those of us who contend with spilled food and drink or pet accidents. Wool, silk, and even viscose (also known as rayon), jute, and sisal are hard to clean, whether you are doing spot cleaning or having it handled by an expert.

Lavin, however, is a big advocate of alpaca wool rugs, noting that they have a higher lanolin content that makes them softer and more stain-resistant. And, he pointed out, alpaca’s also hypoallergenic.

The 100 percent silk Ombre rug from Rosemary Hallgarten is available at the Thomas Lavin showrooms.
The 100 percent silk Ombre rug from Rosemary Hallgarten is available at the Thomas Lavin showrooms.(Courtesy of Rosemary Hallgarten)

It’s a fiber being used more and more in home furnishings and fashion,” Lavin said. “Silk is the most beautiful and elegant, but it stains. Perhaps if you’re a person with no children or pets, for instance, silk would be no worry.”

For high-traffic areas or households with children and pets — or just messy adults — both designers suggest indoor/outdoor rugs.

Get the look: Rugs, Floor Pillows, Throw Pillows, Rectangular Pillows, Side Tables, Coffee Tables, Blackout Curtains, Throw Blankets, Coffee Mugs, Coasters, Serving Trays, Wall Hangings.

That’s a huge trend right now in general,” Pryor said. “Manufacturers are bringing the indoors outside, making furniture for outdoors that looks like it belongs inside. So, rugs are certainly falling right in line with that. We’re seeing beautiful woven rugs with beautiful colors and textures that are super easily cleaned. They can be brought inside — and that’s what you want if your family is hard on things.”

Rosemary Hallgarten’s Aspen rug, found at Thomas Lavin Showrooms, was inspired by trees at her favorite ski resort.
Rosemary Hallgarten’s Aspen rug, found at Thomas Lavin Showrooms, was inspired by trees at her favorite ski resort. (Julia Blailock)

There are also rugs made with Sunbrella polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fabrics, which contain consist of recycled plastic from water bottles. Designers Resource Collection carries 10 different rug lines, including Dash & Albert, which also features PET fabric rugs. They’re also available online through retailers such as Wayfair, Room & Board, and Annie Selke.

Pryor pointed out that PET rugs are “super eco-friendly and super durable. A PET rug is UV-streated, too, so if you’re using it outdoors or in a sunroom or a space with a lot of light, it’s not going to fade over time. They’re also washable, scrubbable and reversible.”

When picking a color, she advised, consider that some (think: dark colors) will be more forgiving when it comes to accidents or stains.

One tricky issue that designers can’t seem to agree on is size and placement. Pryor said that with design, there are no hard and fast rules at all, because there’s nothing objective about it. For one thing, you have to consider what you can afford. Perhaps a bedroom could handle an 8-by-10-foot rug but your budget is only stretchable for a 5-by-8-foot rug. Can that room visually handle a smaller rug?

And then, there’s the layout of the room. Pryor brought up her own dining room, which really needed a larger rug but, with the air conditioning vents situated on the floor on both sides of the room, she had to go for a smaller size — leaving her chairs partly off the rug. But, she said, that’s how the room worked.

Lavin’s take for seating areas is that it’s important that the sofa is either fully on the rug or not on it at all.

Textural warmth from the area rug, at Designers Resource Collection, is echoed in pillows, wall decor and a hanging lamp.
Textural warmth from the area rug, at Designers Resource Collection, is echoed in footstools, pillows, wall decor and a dramatic hanging lamp.(Jenny Siegwart Photography)

I wouldn’t put it half under the sofa,” he said. “I think that’s such a peculiar way of sizing a rug. I think that what can make an impact is generally to think about having a carpet either larger than you expect or smaller than you might expect. Usually, the standard sizes are not really going to be the optimum.”

It also depends on the design of the rug. If you’ve selected one with a pattern in the center, it makes no sense to lay the rug under the bed or under a sofa. Lavin counseled that instead of hiding a rug under a bed, placing runners on each side is a chic alternative. Of course, if your bed is prone to sliding around on a hardwood or tile floor, part of the rug’s purpose is to anchor it — and for that, perhaps, you can get away with a smaller rug that sits under the bottom half of the bed and extends out.

Pryor stressed: “It’s really about the curation of the right thing for space and who’s going to be living in it.”

Once all those decisions are made, you’ll want to deal with the aesthetics. If you’re a person who follows trends, Pryor said to keep in mind that interior furnishings always fall in line with fashion. When it comes to color, she’s seeing a lot of green — both emerald and a deeper teal. She’s also seeing a lot of power-loomed rugs, which are machine-made rugs woven on power looms with the pattern screen printed on them. These, she said, have a better price point than custom rugs, which can get very expensive. And she’s seeing people increasingly layering rugs to bring together different materials and colors.

Lavin said that the overdyed faded vintage look is on its way out.

I see people doing very modernist design in the home and using plain rugs with texture or color,” he said. “With antique, ornate traditional rugs, you have to be very judicious and keep the room it’s in looking fresh and timeless. Otherwise, it ends up looking like Grandma’s house.”

He pointed out that the choices in style, color, and texture are practically endless. “You know designers and artists are also creating rugs,” Lavin added. “I think the thing about design now is that the world is your oyster.”

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